In his first start since contracting hand, foot, and mouth disease over a week ago, Noah Syndergaard did little to make a statement through his first three innings. Following a narrative that has been all too familiar since the start of the second half, Syndergaard was staked to three runs early on, one on a groundball base hit from Bryce Harper in the first and two on an Anthony Rendon home run in the third.
Syndergaard also briefly lost a handle in the middle of the second inning, as he allowed a double to Spencer Kieboom and subsequently walked opposing pitcher Tommy Milone on four pitches. Rendon’s home run came on a hanging slider, just the 19th strike Syndergaard had thrown among his first 36 pitches – and by no means the sort of strike one would hope to remember.
The Mets’ pitching staff now has a 7.09 ERA and 1.57 WHIP through the first three innings since the beginning of the second half – good for 29th and 28th in the major leagues, respectively.
Nonetheless, Syndergaard seemed to turn a leaf after falling into a 3-0 deficit that has often signified the end of the game from an offensive perspective. His fastball velocity, which had dipped into 94-95 mph range in the second, ticked its way back up to 97-98 mph through most of his afternoon, and while his final line only included four strikeouts (just 11 in his last 17 innings of work), Syndergaard was able to put away 15 of his next 16 hitters to eclipse seven innings for the first time since May 20 and third time on the entire season.
“It felt really good… just being able to work ahead, considering where I was two months ago,” Syndergaard told reporters after the game, while he admitted that “…it’s gonna take a while to knock a bit of rust off.”
The turnaround started with Syndergaard weaving three outs out of six pitches to put a cork in the third inning, and made his way through the next three innings burning just 33 pitches – throwing 21 for strikes and making great use of a slider to win a 3-2 at-bat against Kieboom in the fourth and buckle dynamic rookie slasher Juan Soto on a 1-2 count in the sixth. Soto was quickly joined by Matt Adams, who was no match for a 0-2 slider that tied him up inside.
The seventh inning began with a leadoff single from Daniel Murphy to snap a streak of a dozen retired batters, and fell into further peril when pinch-runner Wilmer Difo swiped second base – the fourth Washington steal of the afternoon and sixth of the series. Syndergaard rose to the occasion, though, inducing a 1-3 putout on a shotty bunt from Kieboom and recording two more groundball outs up the middle to end his day.
“I really hit my stride from the fourth to seventh inning. This was a step in the right direction,” Syndergaard added.
It’s naturally going to be difficult to successfully drag along an offense that, with the exception of Jose Reyes and his two home runs, did virtually nothing to pick up its pitcher. It’s a physical impossibility to come out on top with a lackluster defense, as both Wilmer Flores‘ mental and fundamental lapses proved when it opened the door on two unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
New York managed to score two more runs after the fact, but still cost Syndergaard a chance at a victory that he certainly would have deserved relative to the majority of his more tumultuous, stagnant performances. The seven innings of work couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Mets still have Paul Sewald, Robert Gsellman, and Anthony Swarzak rested and ready to come in for tomorrow’s series opener at home against Atlanta.